A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein was a fascinating Elizabethan set story that explored the bittersweet life of poet, spy, and screen writer Christopher “Kit” Marlowe. The more the story moved forward the more engrossed I was by his character. I am shocked that this is Allison Epstein’s debut novel. I wouldn’t thought this was her 3-4 book after reading this. She is definitely a writer to watch out for😊.
Having won a scholarship, Christopher Marlowe is a student at Cambridge. He comes from humble beginnings having been the son of a cobbler. The story opens up with Kit being told to accompany Master Norgate to the masters office. Kit is nervous as he believes his father a drunk has yet again done something to land himself in jail or worse. To Kit’s surprise sitting in the office is Frances Walsingham, the Spymaster for Queen Elizabeth I. Kit is instantly taken aback as he is tasked with what at first appears to be an impossible job, to infiltrate the House of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland. At this moments in time Mary is under house arrest but is still plotting to take the throne. Kit must therefore decipher letters sent between Mary and her accomplices to see whether she plans to overthrow the Queen of England. Kit pretends to be a servant and somehow manages to gain valuable information leading to the inevitable death and execution of Queen Mary and her accomplices.
Kit thinks himself free now to live his life and write his plays. Five years later he becomes one of the most popular playwrights in London developing a well loved play. However, it’s a bittersweet ending for Kit as he’s pulled back into the world of spying and conspiracy. He quickly gets trapped in a web of lies, betrayal and deceit.
Where to I fricking start with this because woooow was this a fantastic read. Usually I don’t gravitate towards historical fiction but after reading the blurb I was like “I need a piece of this”. I’m so glad I got a piece because I loved this book and the characters so much. Kit steals the show with his humour and arrogance. He has so much depth and personality to him as well which made the story even better. You can’t help but love the guy even though he always ends up getting himself into a lot of trouble due to his ego and tendency to have bar fights🤦🏽♂️. Other than Kit, there are so many other interesting and fascinating characters that just draw you in such as Frances Walsingham, Arthur Gregory, Mary Stuart, Anne Cooper William Cecil, and many more. I also loved the relationship between Kit and Thomas Watson. It was so pure and you just want them to be happy and live their lives. But fate isn’t kind to poor wee Kit Marlowe. Half due to his own ego and I guess the other half due to circumstances being out of his hands.
Reading the story also allowed me to learn so much about what happened during this time period. Like obviously being Scottish myself I had learned a bit about Mary Queen of Scots and her execution, but I learned so much more by reading the novel. There were many times I put my book down to ask Google who so and so was😂.
In terms of the writing, it was flawless and absolutely fantastic. I was flicking through the pages like a mad man. I still remember looking at my watch at 2am like “one more page”. One more page ended up in me finishing the whole book by 3am 😂. I was also going with my annotations as there are many memorable qoutes and scenes.
“As though a spell had been lifted, Kit felt the noise of the tavern crash over him, the usual melodies of Southwark. Shouts, curses, laughter, rage.”
Everything about how the book was written was superb and I can’t believe this is Allison’s first novel. I loved the way Allison described the setting, her description of characters was also so vivid and felt real, and don’t get me started on how fast paced and intense the plot was. The book has everything from betrayal, high treason, lies, deceit, and so many funny moments.
The intensity throughout was real. When Kit was infiltrating the home of Mary Stuart I was on the edge because I wanted him to succeed and not get himself killed. But when Mary Stuart is caught Allison flips everything on its head because Kit feels distraught. It made me as a reader feel bad too for Mary and for Kit.
“Kit slept worse with each passing week. Soon, he stayed awake until three or four in the morning, pacing the castle’s halls in end. less, anxious circles to outrun the ghosts of Morgan and Babington.”
I honestly felt so bad for the guy by the end of the book. I loved that though and it was because of the Allison Epstein’s phenomenal writing that you end up getting attached to Kit. The ending honestly made my heart collapse and I had to pick it back up real quick.
Overall, I don’t think my review does this book justice. Like I have so many feelings I want to express but my brain just can’t write it all down lol. What I can tell you is that this is definitely one of my favourite books I’ve read this year, and probably one of my favourite historical fiction novels ever. Allison’s description of the setting made me feel like I was there standing in their in the crowd. The writing is phenomenal, the characters draw you in deeper and deeper into the world of Kit Marlowe, and the tension is nail biting. You can’t help but love Kit even though he’s a numpty at times and gets himself into unnecessary trouble. If you’re a historical fiction lover then this should 100% be on your list!
Thank you very much to Doubleday for gifting me a copy! I am honestly so so grateful for the opportunity to have reviewed this stupendous book.